February 18, 2013

On the study of qualia


Over the last couple of decades many philosophers involved in the systematic study of consciousness have assumed that there is something in common among “what it is like” to see a colour, to smell a flower, to listen to a symphony, to taste an apricot, to be in pain, to feel life is worthless, and the like. The question of why this feeling exists at all  - assuming it actually amounts to be a (somehow) stable target - has been addressed in several ways. It is now commonplace to speak of the distinction between the “cognitive easy problems” and the “phenomenal hard problem” of consciousness. Indeed.

 In this video, Machery raises certain concerns about whether there is such commonality among the experiences in question. Maybe – or so he contends -, we need to find out whether “lay people” consider it as obvious as trained people that there is something in common among those experiences. After all, if it is the case that lay people do not find that there is something in common, then there might be good reasons to think that so-called phenomenal consciousness, as though it was a single class of mental states, is the wrong starting point for a serious study of the nature of qualitative states.

According to Machery, there is now certain evidence to support the hypothesis in question. However, a closer look at the findings seems to suggest there is still room for the hard problem to stay. The question is whether or not Machery’s empirical attempt to argue that there is an original misconception of the traditional approximation to the hard problem can only help pinpoint new easy problems, rather than dispel the (uncomfortable) problem of qualia.

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